Canola meal = nasty

Q: Why don’t you use canola meal in your feeds?  I see it as an ingredient in many soy-free feeds. Why don’t you use it since it is cheaper than other proteins?

A: Canola is one of the most popular and common protein meals used in the feeds manufacturing business. Canola is a brassica, a relative of the mustard plant with many of the same characteristics, particularly in its flavor. It used to be called rapeseed, but since that name presented marketing challenges the product was renamed in its more recently developed varieties. “Canola” stands for Canadian Oilseed. It often shows up on the feed tag as “plant protein meal” or “canola meal.” It’s in most commercial feeds because it is a cheap source of protein, but we don’t use any of it at all here at Union Point Custom Feeds. Here’s why:

Looking up “canola” on a search engine will get you lots of good information about this protein meal, so I’ll be brief here.

We don’t like it because:

o   It tastes bad and animals do not like it.

o   It contains glucosinolates, organic compounds that inhibit the thyroid gland and are the source of strong flavors like mustard.

o   It contains tannins.  A little tannin makes your coffee, tea or beer taste good, but in higher levels, tannins taste awful.  They are bitter and they interfere with crude protein digestion.  They are used in industry in tanning leather.

o   It contains erucic acid, which is toxic, and sinapine, common in other brassicas, again making it taste really bitter as well as contributing to a fishy taste in some brown eggs.

o   It’s nearly always solvent extracted.  Chemicals are used to remove the oil from the seed.

o   It’s nearly always GMO. The genetic modifications that make it a GMO crop are designed for two uses (oil and fuel), and the leftover meal is just a byproduct, sold off to the feeds industry.  Some of the characteristics that make it good for fuel or oil make it bad as a feed ingredient.

In years past “rapeseed” used to taste even worse, but that doesn’t mean canola is good now that it’s been genetically reconfigured.  It’s hard to cover up the nasty taste, but if that’s all the animals have to eat they’ll eventually choke it down.  And it’s cheap.  It costs less per unit of protein than other sources, and the cost per unit of protein is the driving force in commercial formulation of feeds.  Nutritionists are taught to evaluate it by its technical specifications and include it in formulations up to the limits of palatability.  There are specific maximum percentages recommended to make the feed edible. But here’s the truth of it, quoted from the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association, “Higher canola meal inclusion levels may be warranted if economically attractive.”

Because “least cost formulation” is the standard in feed manufacturing, canola meal will often be the cheapest source of protein available to feed manufacturers.  Sometimes it’s used as the only protein, and then it can be a cause of feed refusals or reluctance.  If you’ve bought a new bag of your Brand X feed that your animal liked last time, and this time he looks over the feed bucket at you like you have betrayed him, it very likely means there is too much canola meal in his feed this time.

Since we want our animals to relish their feed, we don’t use it at all. It’s that simple.